As a marshal I guess you’ll always remember your first incident, and this Saturday saw me dealing with (and crying at) mine – and I’m not ashamed to admit I found it quite difficult.
People are always praying for crashes when they watch motorsport, after all it adds an element of excitement to watching cars going round and round for half a hour… but would you pray for David Beckham to break his leg during a football match – okay, quite possibly – but I think you know what I’m getting at… why do we hope that another human being will plough into a wall at 140 mph, it’s just sick voyeurism.
Anyway, I’ll not give you ‘the good stuff’ right at the start, instead I’ll go from the beginning – Saturday saw me spending the morning on a ‘Walkabout’ with Marshal Of The Year, Nadine Lewis, which essentially meant walking the length of the short circuit, and being fed information along the way. To be honest with you, I was dreading this as I’d done it last year and was certain I didn’t need to do it again, but I’m glad I did, it was so informative, and you got to spend the morning watching the racing from all different angles, so if you haven’t done a walk yet, get amongst it.
We were pretty lucky too, as we got to see a car planted in the wall at Druids, and another spin off into the gravel (there we go again with the bloodthirsty-ness) before hanging out next to the St Johns Ambulance, which had a VERY tasty looking first aider on board, crikey, he could come and check my blood pressure any day!
Luckily for me, Nadine quickly dragged us from Druids and down to Cascades where we got to see a couple more cars spinning off and even got a tasty sweet from one of the guys in Orange – clearly wanting to encourage us newbie marshals to sign up! My mum warned me about accepting sweets from strangers and I just took it blindly… I’m still alive to write this though, so I haven’t been bundled into the back of a Ford Transit van before you start ringing the police.
Then we headed up to Avenue for a peek at the cars hurtling around Old Hall Corner and once again, I seemed to attract the action, as we got to watch a number of crashes down at Cascades from our vantage point. We all had to calm down as we headed up Pit Lane and into the Race Control for a nosy around the heart of the track. It was so exciting, everything that was happening on the track was relayed to these guys in their air-conditioned room. I wanted to stay there forever…
Before long though, it was time for lunch and then to head to our post for the afternoon. I was put on the post I have always wanted to work on, Old Hall Corner and had the lovely Andrew Wycherley look after me for the day.
For the first time in such a long time, the guys on Old Hall made me feel like part of their team, and I could really relax and be myself amongst them – it wasn’t long before I was singing and dancing in between races and joining in their banter. They did everything they could to involve me on the happenings of the post, despite having their own jobs to do – Andrew was on his assessment day to be upgraded to a higher marshal, and a fellow newbie was getting to grips with his first day trackside.
We were about five races in when the big crash came, and I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t know what to do. A Formula Ford came crashing into the tyre wall – backwards – at about 100mph and the driver wasn’t moving.
All the marshals were sprinting towards the car, and I was just confused as to what to do – it shocked me that I was so unprepared for dealing with an accident, whilst the rest of the guys rallied around pulling bits of car out of the gravel and keeping the driver calm, I just found myself looking on, unable to help.
Whilst many marshals would have left me there, stood in the middle of the gravel trap with my bottom lip trembling, Andy came over to me and took me to the incident and talked me through everything that was happening; why they were holding the drivers head rigid to why fellow marshals were holding a tarpaulin around the car. It was the tarpaulin that set me off… seeing the rescue unit producing a cover made me think of the worst in terms of the drivers health, but it was simply to stop the driver being distracted by something in the corner of his eye and turning his head as well as preventing the rescue being posted on YouTube within the hour.
It shocked me to think how we all wish for accidents during a race – spectators want to watch something go wrong – and marshals just want something to do other than sitting around drinking tea and eying up the rescue units. *Ahem* whilst I’d dealt with smaller incidents and I know that Saturday’s will not be the worst I ever see – in fact, in many people’s eyes it might not have been bad at all – I think it’s done me good to see how everyone reacts to an incident, and how people’s roles are so crucial in keeping drivers safe.
Oulton Park’s medical team, rescue units and marshals really deserve a pat on the back for the work they do – there was one driver and one car but about 20 people ensuring he was okay, and for that I am truly humbled to be part of their team.